Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book hoarding

I know about real hoarding. I’ve seen the TV shows. More personally, I know a woman who deals with real hoarding at her mother’s houses (there are two). The attempts to clear out one house and get it on the market. The citations from the village. One house condemned. Fix it up before the village tears it down. Hoarding spilling into the yard. It’s painful just to hear the stories. They did eventually find the body of the cat they knew had died several years ago. But the struggle never ends, because apparently it’s very difficult to cure hoarding behavior.

Then there’s pet hoarding, which is awful. Our guinea pig rescue group just took in 50 pigs from one such situation. They aren’t well socialized, so they are hard to find homes for.
Hoarding in my family is much more manageable. My mom has 50 or 60 jars of jam in the basement at any given time. Nice, tidy hoarding.

My hoarding centers around books. I finally went around and did a rough count in our house, out of curiosity. I did get rid of a few hundred children’s books last summer, so that helped a little. Plus we have two Little Free Libraries within walking distance, so sometimes I can stick a few books in there. Granted, sometimes I have to bring a new one home, too. It’s only fair.
Starting upstairs, Boo is a minimalist and a big re-reader, so she only has her 50 favorites in her room. Nea is a bit of a hoarder of everything, plus she’s the downstream book-catcher from the older sibling, so no surprise that she has circa 650.

The master bedroom has 175 in a bookshelf, and 130 on the floor/nightstand. Yes, that looks just as well-organized as it sounds.
Ok, so we have a couple book-free rooms. The sunroom and dining room have none. There are only 5 of the most used cookbooks in the kitchen. The other cookbooks are in the living room, with the gardening books and some kid books. Total living room – about 450.

There’s some board and early childhood books I couldn’t bring myself to give away, boxed up in the basement. Let’s say 300.

And that leaves the study. N finished these bookshelves awhile back. There’s books in the cabinets underneath, too, where the board games were supposed to go. Yup. That’s another 1260 or so.

Grand total? Just under 3000 books, roughly. That’s in the realm of normal. Right?
Oddly, I find myself at the library at least weekly.

I did some navel gazing not too long ago and decided that my need to be surrounded by books appeals to my most optimistic and pessimistic hopes and fears.
Best case scenario: I live a life of leisure and have time to read for hours a day!

Worst case scenario: society collapses, and all technology is lost. It’s not safe outside and hurrah! Nothing to do but read all day and wait for the end! See, now where will all you e-book types be then, huh? That’s right. Pillaging the library, fighting over Danielle Steele and Louis L’Amour paperbacks. Ha. Suckers.

Friday, October 24, 2014

bookie book talk

I'm not sure why I get so much pleasure out of this, but look! My library books match what I claim I'm reading, visible to you on the left.

Guess which one is for my work book club. Nope. Wrong. Guess which one is for my best-ever book club. OK, you may have gotten that one right. Maybe.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Kale Salad

A fine late-season salad, from my friend Beth. I know kale is ├╝ber trendy right now, but try this salad. It's super good.
Kale Salad
1 bunch of kale - curly is best
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1/4 c. roasted sunflower seeds
salt & pepper to taste
2 T olive oil
1/2 fresh lemon, juiced
2 T honey
Cut kale away from stalk and chop finely. Toss kale in bowl with cranberries & sunflower seeds. Drizzle olive oil first, then add salt & pepper. Mix well. Then drizzle honey & lemon on salad and again, mix well. The more you mix, the softer the salad.
Beth says, "I sometimes make this salad on Sunday and eat it all week at lunch. It never gets soggy."

this image is from here

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Raising Monarchs

Say hello to Owen

Sometimes new hobbies just show up overnight, don’t they? There was discussion on Facebook about finding and raising monarchs, and I was bemoaning how I planted some milkweed two years ago and still hadn’t found any. Next thing I know, a friend drops two caterpillars off, and she and I find two more in my garden immediately. Then I found a bunch more. Then I gave some to friends to raise, since I figure if you are trying to save a species from extinction, you should definitely recruit members to your cause.
If you’d like to learn more, I highly recommend this book: How to raise monarch butterflies: a step-by-step guide for kids by Carol Pasternak.

Here’s who we found, in order of appearance in our lives:
  • Owen
  • Rosie (taken by the Nash family)
  • Daisy (taken by the Slusher family)
  • Sophie-Robert
  • Izzy (taken by the Long family)
  • Smally
  • Junior One
  • Junior Two
  • Stuccy
  • Beanie (Raised himself outside. Made a chrysalis on our bean teepee. Given to my dad as a birthday present.)
  • Buck
  • Timber
  • Flash
  • California (from an egg!)
  • Johnny Test (also from an egg! Born today!)

Junior One, Junior Two, and Stuccy
And a swallowtail named Ziggy. Still in chrysalis at press time. Rescued off some dying dill in my garden.
It’s amazing how quickly they grow up. From a tiny egg-dot to a caterpillar almost the size of your little finger in two weeks. At that point they eat around the clock and can finish off one and a half milkweed leaves a day! And those are big leaves. Then another 10-14 days in a chrysalis and VIOLA (ha), a butterfly that’s ready to party.

Beanie, cleverly hiding among the pole beans. That's him in the green with golden accents.

So go plant some milkweed. The flowers are pretty and smell nice and will attract all sorts of strange insects you’ve never seen in your garden before. Surely you have a bit of room behind the garage?

 Bon Voyage, Sophie-Robert!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reading with apraxia

So, Nea is 10 now. She's having a great year at summer school (ESY). Finally a teacher who is teaching! He's reading real literature with them and introducing new concepts. He's doing fractions and teaching them about improper fractions using visual representations. Then he made some YouTube videos to show us parents what that means! Unbelievable.
This is, shockingly, Nea's 7th year in ESY (we skipped last year because we were traveling). And it's the first year I'm not disgusted with what a waste of time it is. She has always enjoyed going, though, and she gets a little speech therapy every week (45 minutes, half of her school year IEP amount), so we kept sending her.

At home we've been reading Junie B. Jones, gearing up for a book club with Nea's best friend, who lives across the street. Nea is reading chapter books! There was great rejoicing! And she's very excited about book group. Let me just tell you, when your friend helps motivate your child to read, that's the best kind of friend. Thank you, Beth! You are a gem.

Some people don't like Junie B. Jones books because they are written in the voice of a kindergartener with poor grammar. Poor past tense verbs, etc. What gets me is that the teacher doesn't know the difference between "good" and "well." So annoying. But if we weren't reading this book, I wouldn't know how well Nea understands adverbs! So instead of reading what the book says ("So listen very careful."), Nea reads, "So listen very carefully." And my heart sings.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Triathlon – end of an era

Well, I’m hanging up my swim cap, biking shoes, and running shorts. Not really, but I have vowed to stop the madness. No more triathlons. And I’m feeling just fine with that. I don’t enjoy the swim, and I don’t love the run. I can always sign up for a century bike ride if I feel the need for a goal.

I did almost as well this year as I did my first year. Less than a minute longer overall. I had a longer transition time in T1 (swim to bike transition). My swim was 4 seconds slower, bike leg was about 30 seconds slower, the run about 15 seconds slower. I did post a record T2, though! Transitioned from bike to run in just over 3 minutes. Go me. All in all, I’m in as good shape as I was 3 years ago, which is pretty good for a mid-40s person. And actually, my run was slightly faster than last year, which it damn well ought to be, with all the training I managed to fit in. All 3 years my run was 32 minutes and change. I'm not fast, but I’m really quite consistent.

Funniest moment: I nearly missed my starting wave for no good reason. Was puttering about, chatting with strangers. My orange-capped group was in the water, waiting for the horn, when I realized. So, bad start position, in the outside back. No wonder it was 4 seconds slower. Great weather, though. The water was in the 70s! I expected icebergs after the winter we just had, but it was nice. Glad not to have a wetsuit.

And although once again I was beaten by two women in their 70s, I did beat 5 women aged 17 and 18. So, ha. That’s something, anyway. And I’m proud to say that I am of average speed, among women who were in this sprint triathlon. A very friendly and enthusiastic group to be in, and I’m proud to have finished it three times. 

Here’s my proof.

Friday, June 6, 2014

What to wear to your triathlon

OK, I'm more excited about the race now. The weather looks a little crappy (68 degrees, rain possible), but I had a great bike/run workout this week, and swimming is a breeze, so it's all good. Started packing up stuff. I have fancy socks. They are labeled "L" and "R" so you know that's quality stuff. Recently bought new running shoes, bike odometer, googles, the shirt and shorts. I tested them all out. Should be good.

Here's my list:

Goggles (x2)
Neoprene Cap
Water Bottles (filled)
Sports bra
Bike (important!) with pump and spare tube
Cycling shoes
Running shoes
Hair tie
Clothing to change into post-race, sandals
Two towels (one to stand on, one to dry)
Snack, Gatorade
Disposable warm clothing for waiting to start
Map, info sheet
Plastic bags
Cell phone
Race number, timing chip with strap
Bucket to sit on (shut up. I'm old now.)
Bike computer

Make your own here:
Triathlon race checklist

Apparently, all the cool kids will be wearing wetsuits (as usual), but I have once again decided that since this is my last! triathlon! EVER!!! there is no point in buying one.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sixth Annual Trash Pick

OMG. The trash pick. I thought it was going to be a total wash, as the weather was 39 degrees and raining. Boo hiss. I missed last year’s -- wah wah oh the humanity. So, I steeled myself, dressed in about a dozen layers, and waded into the fray. More or less. You know, because I have to Rescue the Goods from Landfill.

Before I start, though, the best near-miss was a gorgeous antiquey-looking globe on a floor stand. Timing is everything in this game. The woman who got it was jumping up and down in glee. I congratulated her. It was fabulous. Shortly thereafter, I saw an SUV with someone standing very far out of the sunroof. That’s not safe, I said to myself, before realizing that it was a Justin Bieber cutout. I laughed, but it looked like an accident waiting to happen. Which really is part of trash pick night. The driving? Not safe. Everyone is casing the curb, and you have to be careful both when hopping out of the minivan to check a pile and just generally when trying to decide whether to turn or go straight at the next intersection.

Here in the first photo, we see a lovely oval planter that I hoped would fit in the oval basket next to it (from a different house) but it didn’t. The heartbreak of trashpicking. Between them, webbed swimming gloves. Then 3 new water bottles, a cashmere scarf, a funky fleece hat, a super cool aluminum Christmas tree, and a planter. And a desktop skeeball game, which proved very popular with the kids.

As always, one of the first finds is the best, with a concrete hedgehog. Ain’t he a beaut. Also a basket that I selected partially for the $29.95 price tag still attached. I find the rabbit Beanie baby, cast iron chick, and brass watering can cute.

Not the book haul of past years (I blame the rain), but some excellent titles. And a puzzle and 3 sets of goggles. And a red Coach belt.

(Don’t mind the garage wall.) OK, let’s talk about the oak Crate and Barrel wine rack. I confess that friends gave us first dibs before throwing it to the curb. The crazy lamp on the left was Boo’s pick – she’s wanted that style of lamp for years. In true good neighbor fashion, people had covered it in a clear plastic bag to protect it from the elements. The strange bowl-on-a-stick makes a fine fern holder, according to the nice woman who had just placed it on the curb. Next to it is a hydrangea, a wastebasket holding a Build A Bear bunny, 4 wide-mouthed canning jars, a candlestick, a picture frame, two watering cans for the school garden, and a (international sign of hospitality) wooden pineapple puzzle. On the wine rack are two small rugs that pretty much didn’t touch the ground as they were put to the curb. I was right there. (I ran them through the wash today and they are lovely. Don't worry; I used the delicate setting.) And on them are two pairs of Justice jeans, a hot item for the tweenie set.

This tub I grabbed as seen, with some bats, skates, a few other sports items, and a giant spider for Halloween fun.

Some candle stuff. A cool leaf dish.

OK, and I’ve saved the best items for last. This Steiff bear, paper tag still attached, was in a garbage bag. Now, I know it sounds crazy, but when I picked up the bag, I knew something good was inside. There were some other stuffed animals, Gund and stuff. But I had this weird vibe, and I was right. Steiff goes for some big bucks, so he came home with me.

And lastly. An Eileen Fisher 100% cashmere sweater. Yup. Not pictured: two black cashmere sweaters and a handmade Irish sweater size XXL that I hope Oma will find a good home for. Many knitters are willing to unravel and reuse quality wool. But this one? This one is mine. I washed it, and it fits perfectly!

Here are the two planters and hydrangea after fixing them up.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Triathlon (zum dritten Mal)

So. Seven weeks until my third triathlon. I keep swearing that I’m not doing another one, and then I sign up again. But I mean it this time! Last one. Really. Probably.

Perhaps it’s too early to say, but I don’t think I’m going to beat last year’s time. I have shitloads of excuses ready. How many do you need? My asthma is worse. Back problems. I was promoted, and I went up in hours-per-workweek. I’m a whole year older. It was an awful winter, and I couldn't run outside for 5 months. At night, the ice weasels come.

I ran a 35 minute 5K today. Sad. I never improve much. Only been biking outside on a longer ride once. I’m actually working out most days, but it’s a hodgepodge of different things. Spin class. Boot camp type class. Swimming. Blah blah. I dunno. Maybe I can blame the fact that, for the first time, none of my friends are joining me this year, but since no one was ever in my age group (whippersnappers!), what difference does it make? Triathlons tend to be pretty individualistic anyway.

N and I are hoping to go on longer bike rides this year. Like we did before we had kids. That’s still my favorite sport, so it certainly makes sense. Easy on the body. See the sights. Wind in your face. Birdies in the trees. Snack in your pocket. Maybe I should pretend to bike to work. 20 minutes before and after the workday here at home. That’ll be a lot easier once both girls are taking the bus to middle school. Only 16 more months! 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Random photos

The kids are busy with softball, basketball, swimming, and training to run Boo's second/Nea's first 5K. 

N has been transforming our unfinished basement into different rooms. Laundry and workout rooms are nearly complete. A large family room to come. 

I'm still me, but with more work hours, larger granola batches, yet more triathlon training, and attempts to transition volunteer work to others as much as possible. Only another year left at the grade school! Need to start handing off my pet projects.

So, here's some things that happened this week, in photos.

On the way to pick up a new guinea pig from a rescue group, a call to update the blog:

Here she is, the new pig. Her new name is Pepper. Ain't she cute?! We never renamed a pig before (and this is our 4th rescue pig), but "Peggy" didn't do it for us. Before that she was apparently "Piggie Pig" which is pretty weak. So, back up to 3 pigs currently.

And lastly, the first sprout of the season! Front left, if you can't find it. Late start, with it still snowing and all. Might have to buy my tomato plants this year. Oh well.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Apraxia update and advice for parents of children with apraxia

Someone recently asked me for advice on their newly diagnosed child. Here's sort of a brain dump of thoughts.


Nea is 9 and half. She’s a June birthday, so she’s one of the youngest in her 4th grade class, which is my greatest regret. I should have held her back, but the school was not supportive, and I didn't want to call lawyers in. She’s about a year behind academically, which is much better than a few years ago. She can spell words like “family, students, those, running.” Not bad, considering she still has trouble with TH, J, and R. Also, her short vowels continue to be an issue. Our school SLP (90 minutes a week) and private SLP (60 minutes a week) work together closely.

I asked our private SLP (who is FANTASTIC. Keep looking until you find someone with experience in apraxia.) recently what Nea’s long-term prognosis is. For the first time, her answer was 100% intelligibility! Imagine my joy. She’s not there yet, but we keep working towards it.

One thing that we emphasized very early in her life was, "I don't understand. Can you tell me another way?" This has really paid off. She uses gestures, she tells us context, she puts the word in a sentence.

What I noticed over time was that she wouldn't get easier to understand even as her speech improved, because she was using more complex ideas, abstract concepts, etc. It was helpful that she was used to explaining herself in different ways.

That's maybe the hardest thing about having a kid with a huge speech problem. For years you don't have any view into their inner thoughts. You only get small clues into what's bothering them. And it sucks that everything is such a struggle. Even now she still has to repeat herself a few times every day to us, and we understand her better than anyone else.

We just had her annual IEP, and I needed to put together some speech samples for our private SLP’s report. Here’s what I sent:

A few random thoughts from Nea:
  • How the people take it out anyways? 
  • How many people there are in Africa?
  • Where you teach German school?
 As you can see, there are lingering grammatical issues. I asked her what the perfect summer camp would be and she said:
Play with stuffed animals camp. 6 Flags America camp. Lombard pool camp to play in the water. Everything kids can do camp. There's no adults -- kids make their own decisions. And the last one is ... What are you writing? TV and video game camp.

Happiness is having a child that can say, “There's no adults -- kids make their own decisions.” It was totally understandable, even with articulation errors. What a great sentence.

Nea is in the other room practicing her drums for band. She finally learned to ride her bike at 8 years old. My greatest hope is that someday she enjoys reading. J

Advice for parents of children with apraxia

Having a special needs child intensifies your worry, your frustration with friends and family, your fear. It’s hard on our hearts, our marriages, our social network. Here’s what I wish I had heard 5 years ago:

Forgive yourself. Yes, you could always do 10 more minutes of speech practice, but your main role in your child’s life is PARENT. No one else can fill that role. Nea is a massive cuddlebug. I assume it’s what she needs to help her function in her stressful life.

Think of it this way: if you can make your child happy and make sure he/she continues to work hard in speech and academics, that is your greatest gift to him/her. Nea loves going to school, and she works hard every day, she’s a very happy child, and I consider all of that pretty damn important.

Advocate at school, getting all the services you can for him/her. Educate yourself on what services are available. What are other parents getting for their kids? Never take the school's answer as a final answer. They may say no one receives more than 60 minutes a week of speech therapy. That statement is not legal. They must provide services as deemed necessary for your child's individual needs. Ask for everything in writing. 

If people in your life are not supportive, try to build a new support system with other parents with special needs kids. My Facebook feed is full of CASANA posts. Try to find a local group of supportive parents and meet up once a month.

I know you want a crystal ball. No one knows what the future holds. It’s a very hard path we’re on. Be kind to yourself.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Ugly ornament party - updates

As previously discussed, we like to throw the occasional ugly ornament party. We called the party “annual” for a long time, but at some point we realized that we were horrible filthy liars. It’s not annual if you skip years with a frightening degree of regularly. Anyway. Had one in 2011. Had one again this past month.
The 2011 winner was entitled “With the Teeth” and was presented into competition by the fabulous, marvelous Josh and Jean-Marie. It’s awful, and completely deserved to win.
As usual, whatever it was that I entered was a boring type of bad. Sigh. It’s hard finding good contenders. I keep an eye out at garage sales and rummage sales all year, but there’s so much that’s just a middling amount of ugly.

It was Santabird, back in the day, that forced us to make two categories. Who can compete with a twisted mind like that? But again, coming up with creative ugly is harder than it appears. Trust me, I've tried.

Sandi brought "Scary Poppins" to our house, and won the homemade/altered prize. She bought it at a craft fair. You probably can’t tell from this photo, but it’s mostly made out of beads and safety pins. She is holding an umbrella. Again, please note that a good title can take your ornament to the next level of awful.

And in the store-bought category this year, our first two-peat! Josh and Jean-Marie returned with "Little Red," the runaway winner. Bought at the same antique store as their last winner. They haven’t said where this store is, but I’m going to have to see if I can figure it out.

Because that place is clearly a goldmine of hideousness.